With Conroe ISD’s proposed $807 million bond package, the devil is in the details…

With Conroe ISD’s proposed $807 million bond package, the devil is in the details…

Image: The “devil” in the Conroe Independent School District’s $807 million bond package is in the details, i.e., how the money-grabbing school district arrived at its numerical “estimates” for each of the individual projects which added together comprise the massive amount of funds.

Conroe, February 28 – The Conroe Independent School District’s (CISD) $807 million bond package and tax hike suffers from a fundamental problem: when one drills down to the actual projects in the $807 million bond package, there seems to be little real backup for the school administration’s wish list. That statement is quite literal.

…when one drills down to the actual projects in the $807 million bond package, there seems to be little real backup for the school administration’s wish list. That statement is quite literal.

When CISD’s Superintendent, Curtis Null, makes his canned presentation to chambers of commerce, real estate groups, and local officials, he’s displays a fundamental inability to answer questions about the details. For example, on February 18, 2019, Null presented the one-page version on what CISD wants to spend taxpayers’ money, but he was completely unable to answer Republican Party Treasurer John Wertz’s question why the cost of construction seems to have risen for elementary schools in CISD. Null answered, “We build bigger schools, but costs have also escalated.” Null couldn’t provide any specific details to support his generalizations.

In order fully to understand the problem, one must examine the actual documents CISD uses to sell the $807 million, plus, interest, tax hike that will go before the voters on May 4. The primary document CISD and Null present is a one-page summary of CISD’s spending wish list:

One page summary of Conroe Independent School District’s proposed $807 million bond debt.

The one page summary provides little detail. For example, the “Campus Improvements and Renovations” have some sub-categories but only one $62,524,507.06 number, which leaves one to guess how much the so-called “Turf Conversions” might cost. The “Growth & Sustainability” category is even worse with a list of eight schools but one number totaling $270,034,760.00. The last two digits of that very large number reveal how gross an estimate it actually is.

Appallingly, according to members of the Facilities Planning Committee, which CISD appointed to approve the bond, who have spoken with this newspaper on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, neither CISD’s administration nor PBK Architects provided them with backup details on the costs for the projects at all, with the exception of a 20-page booklet containing large PowerPoint slides with a small amount of breakdown of the individual project costs under the categories within the one page summary above.

Instead of one number, $60,278,394.19, for “District-wide Facility & Transportation Needs,” the CISD administration deigned to provide five individual numbers for the Transportation, Jett Center Decommissioning, Hauke Building Renovation, Teacher Training Center, and Central Maintenance Center. In other words, the Facilities Planning Committee received almost nothing in the way of detail, with one important exception.

Ultimately, CISD’s administration gave the Facilities Planning Committee a spreadsheet appendix of cost estimates of individual projects. In fact, CISD has made a revised version of the spreadsheet available on its website. Here’s the first page:

CISD’s additional cost estimates for projects within the $807 million bond proposal, first page.

The above cost estimate provides a little more detail, although neither the Facilities Planning Committee nor CISD’s Board of Trustees ever came close to providing that level of analysis but rather merely acted as rubber stamps for the CISD’s spending requests.

From the spreadsheet of cost estimates, we glean two important pieces of information.

First, we learn that the “cost estimates were derived from a variety of sources including information provided by architects, engineers, other area school districts, historical data from CISD projects, and CISD’s own knowledge of market prices.”

Wow. $807 million of spending where the cost estimates come, somehow, from “CISD’s own knowledge of market prices”?! Incredibly, no member of the Board of Trustees of CISD ever dared to ask what in the world that means? No member of the Board or the Facilities Planning Committee ever asked to examine the backup detail for those supposed cost estimates.

Second, we learn just from the first page of the “cost estimates” that these estimates are quite gross. For example, Anderson Elementary School’s ADA modifications to the gym/cafeteria restrooms and ADA parking at the Bus Loop will supposedly cost an even $200,000.00, although CISD has provided no information whatsoever from which portion of the atmosphere they pulled that number.

As a result of the importance of these cost estimates, particularly in light of the observations of Wertz and others how expensive the constructions are, some individuals have begun to ask for the basis of those estimates. Not surprisingly, CISD has stonewalled and failed to provide much in the way of answers.

Carrie Galatas, CISD’s General Counsel, has confirmed, “No bids or proposals have been requested or submitted regarding any project in the 2019 Bond Referendum.” In other words, one of the highest officials in CISD has directly confirmed that CISD has no idea how much the projects listed on the bond referendum will actually cost.

In frustration, this newspaper sent a query to Sarah Blakelock, CISD’s Spokesperson, yesterday early in the morning:

“Ms. Blakelock,
“For The Golden Hammer, at the back of the Facilities Planning Committee book, there is an Appendix A1 which contains a spreadsheet of all of the individual projects which comprise the bond package. Are there backup documents for each of those numbers. For example, on the first page there is a line ‘Ag Barn – Otwell – HVAC replacement for chicken room with filters…PCO2…50,000.00.’ Is there some bid for that item? Is there a document backing up the $50,000.00 estimate? Did anyone perform a takeoff in order to arrive at that estimate? Is that document supposedly backing up the line item available on the CISD website or elsewhere online? Why or why not?
“Thank you.”
Almost nine hours later, Blakelock gave the perfect non-answer which merely parroted the useless information on CISD’s website:
“Cost estimates were derived from a variety of sources including information provided by architects, engineers, other area school districts, historical data from CISD projects, and CISD’s own knowledge of market prices. While the 2019 Bond Package includes Priority 1 (PC01) and Priority 2 (PC02) items, not all items listed on the project worksheet will be paid for with bond funds. Some items may be paid for out of the general fund. Additionally, other items, like the one to which you refer, have been struck from the list. Some projects may have also been addressed in conjunction with other recently finished work. (ex: Irons Junior High School: Restripe fire lane on service drive. PC02 17,519.53) The facility assessment was completed in the summer of 2018, and the resultant project list is a working document used by the District to detail capital and facility needs.”
In other words, CISD complete the “facility assessment” two months before the Facilities Planning Committee ever met, which explains why CISD never bothered to share with the Committee the actual data sources, if any, behind the “cost estimates.”
Based upon Blakelock’s answer and Galatas’ deflection, CISD doesn’t appear to have any actual backup materials, such as bids, takeoffs, proposals, proposed contracts, or the like for any of the $807 million wish list on the bond package.
After it became clear that CISD doesn’t have any basis for the “details,” other than the “fresh air,” this newspaper took two additional actions.
First, a group of The Golden Hammer‘s Editorial Staff went over to visit the nice folks at PBK Architects, the facilities planning consultants who worked as part of the Facilities Planning Committee. Surely, architects would have detailed cost documents to back up the $807 million bond. Amazingly, while they were friendly, no such documents were available.
Second, this newspaper has submitted another request under the Texas Public Information Act for the bids, takeoffs, proposals, and proposed contracts, if any, supporting the “cost estimates.” Of course, citizens shouldn’t have to suffer through the necessity of obtaining those materials through a formal Public Information Act request. Those materials should have been on CISD’s pro-bond-advocacy website from the beginning of the school district’s aggressive “sell-the-bond” campaign.
What is clear, however, is that, if there are any actual backup material to support the cost estimates for the $807 million bond package, neither the Superintendent (Null), the General Counsel (Galatas), the Board of Trustees, or the Facilities Planning Committee ever saw any of them.
Clearly, justification for the actual expenditures of taxpayer funds CISD proposes to spend is the devil missing from the scant information CISD has reluctantly provided.

Comments

comments

You must be logged in to post a comment Login